The Sand Of Ja


Ja is 29 years old and lives in a small fishing village in front of the Atlantic Ocean, Ribeira da Barca, on the island of Santiago, Cape Verde.The life of the country goes with the rhythm of the ocean, and the community formed by a few thousand people, has always enjoyed an abundance of fish resources.Ja is not a ‘peixera’, the matron who collects and manages the fish, Ja does not sell fish, and sometimes doesn’t even eat it.Ja, like hundreds of other women and men of Ribeira da Barca, cannot rely upon fish for their income and so have changed job; now they illegally sell the sand from the beaches.This activity was declared illegal by a Decree Law of the Cape Verdean government in 1997, and reconfirmed in 2002.Almost daily, depending on the weather and time of year, a column of young men and women armed with shovels and buckets, walks in the direction of Charco, at the South of the village. One this was an immense black beach  of volcanic sand.Now there are just only pebbles and stones cover Charco, the sand is gone.
To be able to collect it, the people have to go deep into the sea water, and swim in an often violent Ocean.
Men, about ten meters from the shore, collect the sand sand from the bottom of the sea with their shovels and fill the buckets, which women then carry on their heads.Two loaded shovel and the bucket is full of black wet sand. To exit from the sea, people walk barefoot on the pebbles, and they have to be careful to follow the right current and wave, otherwise they risk falling and losing 20 pounds of sand and to obtain distorsions and strains to the neck, the shoulders, the back and the legs.  

The reasons for this activity are many.
Many of these people have worked all their lives in the traditional and profitable fisheries, many were fishermen, some women were ‘peixere’.In the past few years the quantity of fish has drastically reduced, the days of good fishing are becoming rarer. If a few years ago it was common to see fishermen returning daily with abundant catches, now this happens only once a week.
The inhabitants of Ribeira da Barca do not even have enough fish to feed themselves, and are unable to sell any at the market.
The community found a way to survive, at the cost of the destruction of the environment and ecosystem.
Another connection with the illegal activities of collection and sale of the sand is the huge demand of the same feedstock: Santiago is the largest island in the archipelago of Cape Verde, is home to half of the population. The construction industry is booming due to population growth.
The building expansion is also promoted by Cape Verdeans who have migrated abroad and increasingly want to build a second home, to enjoy the holidays in the future old age.
The sand of Charco is collected and sold mostly to the nearby town Assomada to build houses. Most of the revenue from this activity goes into the pockets of truckers who resell it three times the price.
What Ribeira da Barca is just one example of a problem of national scope. Even the beaches of Ribeira das Prata, Sao Domingo, Nossa do Luxo and Santa Cruz have been targeted as an economic resource by a population exhausted by the continuous deterioration of living conditions.

The reasons for the overall decrease in fish are varied, but the connection with the exploitation by the European and Asian markets of marine resources is evident.
The 'Common Fisheries Policy' of the EU is the set of laws regulating fishing methods and management of oceanic resources in international waters. It was created 10 years ago with the intention of preserving and conserving fishery resources.
In reality, however, it is widely abused, noth in regards to the legal fish (tuna, swordfish) and a large illegal and unregistered catch of fish (various species of sharks and turtles). Because of all this marine resources are dramatically decreasing.
The main target of unregulated international fishing are the major predators of the sea. After they have been drastically reduced, the food chain is altered, the smaller fish are no longer obliged to live near the coast and so move off, out of reach of the wooden vessels of traditional fishermen.
The collection and destruction of the sand of the beaches and many have drastic consequences, both geological and environmental, that have an impact on the tourism and agriculture.
The citizens of Ribeira da Barca, could live of a sustainable tourism, if the environmental beauty were preserved.
The seawater having no more physical barriers to keep it out, contaminates groundwater with salt and damages nearby agriculture.

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Photographer: Francesca Tosarelli